By James Beaty
Volunteers made substantial progress over the weekend in building a re-creation of a traditional Choctaw village at McAlester’s Hutchison Park.
Now, they’re asking for more help for an additional work day this weekend.
“We’re going to have another work day on Saturday,” said McAlester News-Capital Publisher Amy Jones, who spoke to the McAlester City Council on Aug. 27 to get approval for the project.
Plans call for volunteers to gather at the park 9 a.m. Saturday. Hutchison Park is at Fourth Street and Krebs Avenue, behind the Whistle Stop Bistro, in McAlester’s Old Town.
Volunteers made significant progress on several projects during the work day held last Saturday.
“We’ve got the structure of the winter hut finished,” Johns said, referring to the frame of the type of hut where Choctaws would traditionally spend their winters.
“What’s left is to fill it in with cedar posts, mud it, and fill the roof with willow and cane,” Johns said.
The food processor — a place where meat could be spread to dry —has been completed.
Plans are for the fire pit to be finished on Thursday.
“Sam Ward is going to Jackfork to pick up some supplies,” Johns said, relating how he plans to complete the fire pit project once the supplies are in-hand.
Those building the village are striving for authenticity. During the work last Saturday, Les Williston, who works on cultural projects and services with the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, joined in to assist the local volunteers.
Johns said he proved very helpful, as did the other volunteers.
They included Choctaw Tribal Councilor Bob Pate, who spent the day working alongside the other volunteers.
“The plan for this Saturday is to complete the winter hut and artisan booths,” Johns said, referring to booths where Choctaw artisans are expected to set up during local events.
Volunteers hope to have that portion of the project completed in order to for it to be dedicated during the upcoming Wild West Festival set for Oct. 5 in McAlester’s Old Town.
The small group of volunteers who worked last Saturday put forth a tremendous effort.
“The whole experience for me was amazing,” said Johns, who said she learned a lot about building a village.
“I wish more would come out and experience it,” she said. “It’s a wonderful experience for children.”
Johns said she learned how hard the Choctaw people who built the original villages worked. They didn’t get to break for sandwiches; they didn’t have modern tools, she noted.
Johns said it was a pleasure working with the volunteers and meeting those she didn’t already know.
Earlier this month, local volunteers including Johns, Old Town Association President Eddie Gray and city of McAlester representatives met with Tribal Councilor Pate and with Choctaw Nation Executive Director of Cultural Services Sue Folsum, Choctaw Nation Marketing Director Lana Sleeper and Choctaw Nation Director of Cultural Services Kay Jackson.
Other attending the planning meeting included McAlester City Manager Pete Stasiak, along with Pam Kirby, also of the city, McAlester Community Services Director Mel Priddy and Sherman Miller, of the Parks and Recreation Department.
Discussions centered on a design for the facility, as well as keeping a watchful eye for authenticity.
At the request of those present, Johns agreed to serve as the volunteer coordinator for the project.
She’s looking forward to getting more work completed on the project this Saturday.
She said those who come to work should wear long sleeves for when they’re working with the newly-cut cedar poles and they should also bring heavy work gloves.
Water will be provided.
“I’m encouraging everyone to come on out,” Johns said.
Contact James Beaty at email@example.com.